MONTREAL – The Canadiens’ most promising line of the night will have plenty of time to build on what they’ve started in 2013-14.
Boasting an average age of 21 years and eight months, the team’s youngest line was also its most dominant in the home opener. Combining to score all three Habs goals against Toronto, the line consisting of Brendan Gallagher, Lars Eller and Alex Galchenyuk used the first game of the campaign to showcase some of the things they learned together during training camp.
“I think probably we all tried to do a little too much in the preseason,” admitted Eller, whose trio was the most commonly used in the preseason, spending 41:06 together through seven exhibition games. “If you’re 90 or 95 percent there, it’s not enough. We’re only good when we’re there 100 percent and that’s what Michel [Therrien] told us we needed to do. When we do that and we play simple, the chances are going to come. A lot of times, less is more.”
Except when it comes to the scoresheet, when more is always more. Currently on pace for a 264-point campaign in 2013-14 after racking up two goals and an assist in Game 1, Eller spent the season opener flexing the kind of offensive muscle that lured St. Louis into drafting him 13th overall in 2007.
“That’s what you come to expect from Lars. He’s a very good two-way player; he can play against anyone,” praised Gallagher, who chipped in with a goal, two hits and three shots in his 11:26 of ice time. “He’s a great, big, powerful guy and when he’s on like he was tonight, he’s hard to stop. When he’s a horse like that and controlling the puck and controlling the pace of play, he’s easy to play with and you’re just trying to get him the puck as much as you can.”
That feeling seemed to be mutual for the Danish pivot, who slid a perfect feed to the 2013 Calder Trophy finalist to set up Gallagher’s first goal of the campaign.
“I love playing with [Gallagher and Galchenyuk],” confirmed Eller, who is the elder statesman on the line at 24-and-a-half years of age. “They make things happen almost every shift and they’re fun to play with. You don’t need to correct them too much – they’re playing on their instincts and they’re battling hard. The most encouraging thing about them is they compete so hard that even if they’re going to have some down times during the year, which we’re all going to have, they’re still going to help the team because they win loose pucks and they compete. They’re always going to contribute in some way.”
Earning second star honors for his efforts, Eller was quick to share the praise for his offensive outburst in the first game of the season.
“I got a lot of help from a beautiful pass from [Raphael] Diaz on my first one and Gallagher and Galchenyuk work hard and win the little battles,” he explained. “You might not see it but if you look at the replays, it’s coming from winning small battles at the blue line – suddenly you create a 2-on-1 or a 3-on-1. You get the chances by doing the little things.”
While he may be encouraged by his line’s trajectory early on, Gallagher isn’t satisfied with the trio’s performance just yet. Just a few months removed from making his professional debut in 2012-13 in Hamilton, the budding star sees plenty of room to grow.
“It’s just one game,” cautioned Gallagher of his line’s strong performance. “It’s going to be important for us to play the same way next game. We talked about it beforehand that there’s only one way we can play and that’s getting in on the forecheck and moving our feet. If we’re not doing that, we’re not a good line.
“We’re feeling more and more comfortable every game and it’s getting better, but there’s stuff to work on and stuff to clear up so we’re not going to stop working or stop getting better,” promised Gallagher. “There are lots of improvements to be made.”
With two-thirds of the line still on their entry level contracts and the other member a few months shy of his 25th birthday, the team’s kid line will have no shortage of opportunities to grow together in Montreal.
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.
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